Farm workers exposed to serious hazards

Last week’s death of a Marondera farm worker in a tobacco barn explosion exposed the serious neglect of health and safety regulations in the agriculture industry, according to a farm welfare union.

Francis Tobias was working in a tobacco barn with a dysfunctional temperature control component and the barn’s heat levels rose too high for the makeshift tobacco leaf softening drums, resulting in the explosion that killed Tobias.

The General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz) says a large number of their cases relate to farmers’ non-compliance with health and safety regulations.

Rickson Qoma, a Gapwuz official based in the Mazowe District, said farmers generally overlook the importance of providing a safe working environment for their workers.

“Every week, in my district alone, I handle an average of six grievances related to occupational health and safety. In most of these cases farmers fail to provide adequate protective clothing for workers who handle chemicals, and in the case of tobacco farming, workers are often forced to work in areas where they are exposed to excessive heat during the tobacco curing,” he said.

The National Social Security Authority Statutory Accidents Prevention and Workers’ Compensation Scheme Statutory Instrument 68 of 1990, which regulates occupational health and safety in all the industries has been cited by Gapwuz as ineffective.

Gapwuz General Secretary, Gift Muti, says that current legislation is too broad.

“The major challenge is the lack of a policy that is specific to the agriculture industry as the current legislation (SI 68) is universal and, as you know, the agriculture industry has different health and safety requirements,” he said.

“We are working on our own policy, which we hope to be as preventive as possible and we have finished the first draft which we will share with other stakeholders. It is our hope that if it sails through, we can see a reduction in the number of complaints related to health and safety,” Muti added.

Gapwuz sent the document to its umbrella labour body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, farmers’ representative organisations and the Labour and Social Services Ministry for consideration and amendment.

However, a quick survey by The Zimbabwean revealed serious complications for farm workers who attempt to claim compensation when they are injured at workplaces.

According to the law, an employer must deduct monthly dues to be paid to the National Social Security Authority (NSSA).

In the event of an accident, the worker can claim the compensation from the NSSA through the employer.

However, there has been an outcry as the majority of farmers who benefited from President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land grab are reportedly failing to register with the NSSA, putting at risk the welfare of farm labourers.

A recent statement by the NSSA reminds new farmers that failure to remit contributions and premiums to the NSSA is a criminal offense which attracts a heavy fine or prison sentence or both.

Labour and Social Services Minister Paurina Mpariwa Gwanyanya said her ministry is doing all it can to improve workers’ welfare.

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